Has culture fit become less important?

19 days ago Kat Hagan

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​I am sure I don’t need to educate anyone that the genie is well and truly out of the bottle and the world of work has fundamentally changed. Hopefully, and the early indicators do suggest this is the case, a lot of these positive changes will be sustained and employees will be given more autonomy to decide how, when and, crucially, where they work best.

One question that did occur to me (that hasn’t been plastered all over LinkedIn yet), was how much does person-organisation/person-team fit matter if we are moving to a hybrid working model? If our employees are only physically together two to three days a week, and are therefore working much more independently, can we move away from hiring for culture fit and put more of a laser focus on purely hiring for performance? It’s relatively uncharted water for the vast majority of organisations, plus couple this with a rebounding economy, and therefore increased hiring needs, and most employers will tell you that the battle for the best and brightest talent is fierce, so what can we afford, if anything, to compromise on?

WHAT DOES THE SCIENCE TELL US?

If you ask most hiring managers what’s the most important consideration when assessing and selecting potential new hires, they will rate individual job performance as the primary and culture/team fit as a secondary. An abundance of research over the years has sought to evidence that person-job fit, and person-environment fit are interdependent, and most researchers would agree that it is the combination of the two that determines individual performance and other hugely important employee outcomes such as job satisfaction, organisational commitment, better job performance, lower absenteeism and increased turnover1. A six-year study2 has equally shown that purely hiring existing ‘stars’ is a bit of a risky business in itself. Hiring managers will naturally get excited when hearing about a candidate’s performance in an interview setting. However, they should be aware that this performance is highly likely to drop upon transferring from one company to another, and this in turn can see a decline in the overall performance of the work team into which they are subsequently embedded2. Some of the reasons cited for this are that ‘stars’ arrive unwilling to unlearn old practices and adopt new ones in line with their new team norms, and their arrival causes interpersonal conflict and a communication breakdown across the group. It’s well known that trust is a core component for any high functioning team. If a new hire causes this trust to diminish then their arrival can have far reaching implications. With the move to hybrid and remote working, our teams will now have less physical time to build this trust, and we therefore have to work even harder to create and maintain it. Conversely, however, if we hire quality individuals who are also a good person-team fit – and I don’t mean hiring a homogenous group of individuals that we love going for a beer with – and have the qualities for us to be able to mould them into our own ‘stars,’ then team morale and performance are enhanced by their addition.

Most hiring managers, and/or TA/HR teams, will have a good understanding of the work-related knowledge and skills required for the position they are looking to hire and will seek to match potential applicants to these accordingly. The trouble with existing and traditional selection models like this is that they are more concerned with finding new employees than they are with retaining them. Whilst it can be time consuming, undertaking an organisational analysis that defines and assesses the work environment and culture, identifies behaviours that lead to organisational effectiveness within it, and therefore the personal characteristics of individuals that are likely to flourish, is indeed time well spent. Considering the rapid pace of change over the last year, this organisational analysis is likely to prove even more crucial, as job analysis can quickly become outdated if the requirements of a role need to shift in line with the new work context. Those that thrive in changing environments are likely to be those that are adaptable and skilled in other areas outside of those that they were originally recruited for. Given the stability of a company’s culture and values, they act as a motivational anchor to retain valued staff members through difficult periods and are vital to keep our employees engaged, and indeed going beyond expectations3, especially whilst they aren’t physically in the office as frequently to be motivated by their team and manager around them.

SO HOW DO WE EFFECTIVELY ASSESS FOR THIS?

In the utopian world a well-designed and structured interview process that includes both job-related questions to assess for relevant job skills and knowledge, and behavioural questions that assess for culture fit, yield unquestionably great results. The trouble is that these aren’t always well designed or executed and frequently still, a hiring decision will be made off the back of a standalone interview with one interviewer. One way to enhance this, and to outsource the lengthy organisational analysis process, is to work with a credible, external assessment partner who can build in personality and other psychometric assessments. A reputable external partner will be able to work with you and your team to build success profiles that provide an optimal blueprint for candidates at both organisational and individual level. These can be perceived as costly, but done well they are invaluable and continue to be so after a candidate joins, as they can be utilised for ongoing development… On that note it’s worth mentioning that conversely, those that aren’t done well hold little to no value, and will cost you a lot with no return. Many of the, ahem, ‘trusted’ main players in the field’s (mentioning no names) tests hold little to no reliability. i.e. were you to repeat the assessment you would fail to gain the same results consistently, or even more commonly, validity, in that they fail to measure what they are actually purporting to. Don’t just be fooled by the prettiest tools out there, seek to understand their credentials and how these have been assessed by the scientific community.

To answer my original question, in my humble opinion it is an overwhelming yes, culture fit does still very much matter in a hybrid world. There will ultimately always be exceptions to this, and I guess it fundamentally comes down to your leadership and your organisation’s culture – are you happy for people to effectively rent a desk and come and go, or are you looking to build sustainable teams and an organisation that scales into the future? If, as I suspect, it is the latter, then organisation fit should be now, more than ever, as fundamental a requirement as hiring for the job.

Kat Hagan | Investigo | katrina.hagan@investigo.co.uk

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​1 Bowen, D.E., Ledford Jr, G.E. and Nathan, B.R., 1991. Hiring for the organization, not the job. Academy of Management Perspectives, 5(4), pp.35-51.

2 Groysberg, B., Nanda, A. and Nohria, N., 2004. The risky business of hiring stars. Harvard Business Review, 82(5), pp.92-101.

3 Memon, M.A., Salleh, R., Nordin, S.M., Cheah, J.H., Ting, H. and Chuah, F., 2018. Person-organisation fit and turnover intention: the mediating role of work engagement. Journal of Management Development.